COVID-19: Free Annual Credit Report Now Available Weekly


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In a rare joint action, the national credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion have announced they are now offering free weekly credit reports to all Americans in an effort to protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19. 

Available through the Annual Credit Report portal, the free reports will be accessible through April 2021. 

“These are unprecedented times facing the world. People are feeling scared and uncertain about the future. To help play our part and reduce some of that anxiety, we are uniting as an industry to help people know the facts about their financial data,” Mark W. Begor, CEO of Equifax; Brian Cassin, CEO of Experian; and Chris Cartwright, CEO of TransUnion, indicated in a joint statement. “We are making credit reports more accessible more often so people can better manage their finances and take necessary steps to protect their credit standing.”

As noted by the credit agencies, the “hardship” has spread rapidly over the last few weeks with the novel coronavirus shutting down much of the country. That led to approximately 22 million workers – or 13 percent of the U.S. labor force – filing for unemployment. In addition, almost 3 million borrowers have requested a forbearance on their home mortgage. 

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – or CARES Act – creditors and other financial institutions are required to report to the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion that consumers are current on their loans and other obligations if relief was sought due to the pandemic. 

Credit vigilance is critical during these uncertain times. Consumers are advised to review their credit reports frequently to determine how their payment behavior is being reported. The single most important action for consumers who cannot pay their bills is to contact their creditors to determine what assistance is available.

“To help play our part and reduce some of that anxiety, we are uniting as an industry to help people know the facts about their financial data,” the CEOs concluded. “We are making credit reports more accessible more often so people can better manage their finances and take necessary steps to protect their credit standing.” 

Accessible through the Annual Credit Report portal, the free weekly credit reports are available through April 2021. 

“Reviewing your credit report on a regular basis is a simple way to be proactive about your financial well-being,” Steve Swickle of Fort Lauderdale told South Florida Reporter. “And with 156 opportunities over the next 12 months, it just got easier.” 

Guide to Credit Reports, Credit Scores


Attention is focused on new financial regulations enacted as part of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission announced final rules requiring creditors to provide consumers’ with a “risk-based pricing notice” when granting credit on less favorable terms than it provides other consumers.

To assist consumer understanding of these new rules, the U.S. Federal Reserve has unveiled an online guide to credit reports.

This straight-forward guide includes information on credit reports and credit scores, how they are utilized in credit granting decisions, unsolicited credit offers, credit repair and how to protect your personal information from fraud.

Released on Wednesday, the “Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores” is meant to complement consumer-protection laws that Congress enacted several years ago.

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, lenders – starting in January – will be required to tell consumers when adverse information on their credit reports is going to result in higher rates and fees for mortgages, credit cards and other loans.

In today’s tough economy, a strong FICO (Fair Isaac) credit score is more important than ever. Studies show that approximately 78 percent of credit profiles in the United States contain some sort of error or omission materially impacting credit worthiness.

As creditors tend to offer favorable terms to consumers with good credit histories and more costly credit to those with poor credit histories, the guide is intended to assist them in disputing negative and/or inaccurate information prior to making an application for credit or employment.

Under the “risk-based pricing” rules, consumers hit with the less favorable credit terms can also obtain a free credit report to check its accuracy.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as modified by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report under a narrow set of circumstances.

If you have been denied credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance, and/or employment, the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are statutorily mandated to provide a copy free of charge.

Absent these exceptions, consumers are entitled to one free “annual credit report” per year. Credit scores are not included with any of the “free credit reports” provided by the national credit reporting agencies.

Equifax can be contacted at (800) 685-1111 or www.Equifax.com; Experian can be contacted at (888) 397-3742 or www.Experian.com; and Trans Union can be contacted at (800) 916-8800 or www.TransUnion.com.

Be sure to prompt that you were denied credit when requested to do so.

For your free annual credit report, contact the central source at 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-8228) or www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Follow the voice prompts and obtain your credit report for review.

Consumer advocates say additional work is needed to address concerns about credit reports and credit scores. “The main problem is really with credit reports – they’re just plagued with inaccuracies,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Lauren Saunders. “It’s a nightmare for consumers to get anything fixed.”

Saunders said she is expecting the FTC and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first agency to be charged with protecting consumers from abusive financial products, to take more action in addressing consumer concerns about credit reports.

Acting as a primer to the uneducated individual, the “Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores” advises what they should do if they find errors. In a three-step process, ordering credit reports and reviewing them for errors or inaccuracies; contacting the credit reporting agencies to enter a formal dispute; and, waiting for a response from the CRA’s and/or creditors is explained.

To learn more about the Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores, visit www.federalreserve.gov/creditreports. To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/nov/14/guide-credit-reports-credit-scores/

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Stop Annoying or Harassing Phone Calls


Are you receiving annoying or harassing phone calls from telemarketers or debt collectors? In these tough economic times, your telephone seems to ring more often. There are actions you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive. First, you must determine whether the caller is a telemarketer attempting to solicit a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a past due bill.

To stop most telemarketers from calling your home or cell phone, you must sign up through the Do Not Call Registry offered by the Federal Trade Commission. Registration can be made online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number in which you seek to block.

The national Do Not Call Registry gives you an opportunity to restrict most telemarketing calls received on your home or cell number. Once you register, telemarketers covered by registry rules have up to 31 days to remove your phone number from their calling lists. Should the telemarketing calls continue, you have a right to file a complaint with the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission says that “because of limitations in the jurisdiction of the FTC and FCC, calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls. However, if you ask a company with which you have an existing business relationship to place your number on its own do-not-call list, it must honor your request. You should keep a record of the date you make the request.”

Distinguished from the telemarketer, is the debt collector. If you owe a past-due bill, debt collectors have the right to call you – but not harass you. The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

There are many types of debts covered by the FDCPA. Personal, family, household debts, auto loans, medical bills, and even your mortgage are all protected under the law. The FDCPA, however, does not cover debts incurred to run or operate a business.

Some of the most common questions about debt collectors and consumer rights can be answered by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov. Although the FTC will not normally intercede on behalf of an individual consumer, they act as a clearing house for complaints and have been known to initiate legal action against the most abusive collectors in the industry.

Should a Florida resident have a complaint about abusive debt collection tactics, they can file a complaint through the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), the state agency in charge of debt collectors, at www.flofr.com. In this instance, the OFR will open a file and forward the complaint to the offending agency.

If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take legal action.

“You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated,” the FTC said. “If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower. Even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.”

Whether you receive an annoying or harassing call from a telemarketer soliciting a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a debt, you can stop your phone from ringing by simply learning your rights.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/mar/21/lc-stop-annoying-or-harassing-phone-calls/columns-welewisjr/

Identity Theft Protection is a Waste of Money


Are you one of the 13 million people who purchased “identity theft protection” in 2009?  If so, you wasted your money.  Identity theft protection companies push statistics like “almost 11 million adults were victims of identity theft in 2009” while prodding you to purchase a service that could cost up to $179.00 per year.  What they fail to advise is that identity theft protection does not cover account take-overs, the misuse of debits cards, or the establishment of personal identification (such as a driver license) in your name.

I am happy to report that almost all of the services provided by identity theft protection companies are available at little or no cost.  There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.

REVIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORT

By keeping close tabs on your credit report, you can identify signs of fraud early.  If you find an account not opened by you and have positively identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute with the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.  You can obtain a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or (877) 322-8228.  When you pay for identity theft protection, this free credit report is one of the “benefits” they tout.

PLACE A 90-DAY INITIAL FRAUD ALERT ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Call the credit reporting agencies and request a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report.  Not only will this trigger a free credit report but will advise potential creditors to investigate any application prior to issuing credit, goods, benefits, services, and/or employment.  Contact Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742 and Trans Union at (800) 916-8800.  When you pay for identity theft protection, this fraud alert is one of the “benefits” they tout.

FREEZE YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Identity thieves and creditors are frozen in their tracks without access to your credit report as they will not have access to your credit history.  In Florida, you are entitled to temporarily “freeze” access to your credit profile without cost if you are over 65 years of age or are a verified victim of identity theft.  All others must pay $10.00.  Without access to your credit report, a responsible lender will not issue credit.  When you pay for identity theft protection, a credit report freeze is one of the “benefits” they tout.

STOP UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARD OFFERS

Are you tired of junk mail filling your mail box?  Opting out at www.optoutprescreen.com or (888) 5OPT-OUT will stop most unsolicited pre-approved applications and reduce the incidence of identity theft. Opting-Out refers to the process of removing your name from lists supplied by Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis to be used for firm (preapproved / prescreened) offers of credit or insurance.  When paying for identity theft protection, opting out is one of the “benefits” they tout.

BUY A CROSS-CUT SHREDDER


“Dumpster diving” is still a very popular method of obtaining credit card applications and supporting documentation.  Purchase a cross-cut shredder that cuts vertically and horizontally, turning sensitive mail into confetti.  If you think a torn up credit card application will be rejected by a credit card company, you have not heard the story of how Chase approved a ripped up application.

While the Credit Card Act of 2009 has mandated a number of changes in relation to “free credit reports,” the area of identity theft protection is an area to watch.  Reduced fees in one area will only mean enhanced fees in another.  There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/mar/07/lc-identity-theft-protection-is-a-waste-of-money/columns-welewisjr/

A Truly Free Credit Report Without Cost or Fee


Have you ever been denied credit, goods, benefits, services, employment and/or insurance? Do you have a problem with “free” credit reports that are often bundled with credit scores and/or credit monitoring services and steep monthly fees? If so, you are not alone.

As part of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (commonly referred to as the Credit Card Act of 2009), advertisements for credit reports will soon require enhanced disclosures to help consumers avoid confusing “free” offers. These offers often require consumers to spend money on credit scores and/or credit monitoring while the “no-strings-attached” credit reports available through the central source at www.AnnualCreditReport.com are truly free to consumers once every 12 months

Effective April 1, 2010, the Federal Trade Commission’s Free Credit Reports Rule will require a prominent and enhanced disclosure in advertisements for “free” credit reports. Specifically, all Web sites offering “free” credit reports must include – across the top of any page that mentions them – a disclosure stating:

THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Read more at FTC.GOV You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the only authorized source under federal law.

The Web site disclosure must include a clickable button to “Take me to the authorized source” at www.AnnualCreditReport.com as well as clickable links to the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov.

Under recent legislation, the Credit Card Act of 2009 required the Federal Trade Commission to issue a rule to prevent deceptive marketing of “free” credit reports. Specifically, the Act requires that certain advertisements for “free” credit reports include prominent disclosures designed to prevent consumers from confusing these so-called “free” offers with the federally mandated “free” annual credit reports available through the “centralized source,” which is www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

The Federal Trade Commission proposed amending the rule in late 2009 and received more than a thousand comments from consumers, consumer reporting agencies, consumer report resellers, business and trade organizations, state attorneys general, consumer advocates, law firms, members of Congress, and academics. Most of these comments were in favor of change and enhanced disclosure requirements.

The amended rule also restricts practices that might mislead or confuse consumers as they attempt to obtain their federally mandated “free” annual credit report. The consumer reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will now be required to delay the advertising of any products and/or services at the central source until the consumer has successfully obtained their “free” annual credit report.

Except for the wording of the disclosures for television and radio advertisements, which takes effect on Sept. 1, 2010, the new rule is effective April 1, 2010. The Federal Trade Commission will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the amended rule as well as the required disclosures and may consider additional changes as deemed necessary in the normal course of affairs.

Information contained in credit reports may determine whether a consumer can obtain credit, goods, benefits, services, employment and/or insurance. As such, it is important that consumers review their credit reports and correct any information that is inaccurate, erroneous, obsolete, and/or fraudulent. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are required to provide consumers with a “free” annual credit report once every 12 months, but only upon request. To learn more about their right to a “free” credit report under federal law, consumers are encouraged to visit the Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.ftc.gov/freereports.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/feb/28/lc-a-truly-free-credit-report-without-cost-or-fee/columns-welewisjr/